This Week In History: Dec. 6-12 

Betty White, famous American actress born on January 17th, 1922, recently passed away on the last day of 2021. Photo courtesy of Encyclopædia Britannica

Happy New Year, my fellow historians! It’s 2022, and we’re back for another semester of deep dives into the wonderful world of history. To celebrate the birth of a new year, This Week in History is celebrating the birth of a few familiar figures who have had a tremendous impact on the political and cultural landscape we live in. So let’s dive in! 

On Jan. 17, 1922, 100 years ago, in Oak Park, Illinois, television icon Betty White was born. 

The last day of 2021 saw the passing of an actress whose career spans longer than many of us have been alive, and while most actors or celebrities retire quietly in their later years, White remained golden to the very end. 

White made her television debut in the late 1930s, long before most Americans even owned a TV, working for a local station. She produced and starred in the 1950s-sitcom, “Life with Elizabeth,” becoming one of the first women to work both in front and behind the camera, and spent the 1960s on a series of game shows, talk shows and variety shows. 

White’s career took off in the 1970s when she began work as Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” a role that would win her two Emmy Awards. The 1980s saw White as the sweet and naive Rose Nylund of “The Golden Girls” and its subsequent spin-off, “The Golden Palace;” the role that saw the third Emmy Award win of her career, among several other accolades.  

The 1990s, 2000s and 2010s saw White as a favorite guest of late-night talk shows, the oldest host of “Saturday Night Live” and a return to television as a main character of “Hot in Cleveland” and the host of “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.” 

White died of natural causes peacefully in her home in Brentwood, Los Angeles on Dec. 31, 2021. While she is no longer with us, she was a trailblazer in the entertainment industry, and we can only thank her for being a friend for the past 80 years. 

Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. Photo courtesy of Encyclopædia Britannica

On Jan. 15, 1929, 92 years ago, in Atlanta, Georgia, civil rights hero Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born. 

Alright, I admit that we’re venturing out of this week for this event, but considering the United States observes King’s birthday on Monday of this week, I figured it was worth discussing.  

Known for his powerful oratory skills and dedication to peaceful resistance, King galvanized the American Civil Rights Movement, focusing his efforts in the heavily-segregated American South. Peaceful protests like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington were tremendously successful in bringing attention to the racial inequities of the U.S., and thrust King into the national spotlight. His words at such events brought together Americans of all backgrounds, and his “I Have a Dream” speech remains one of the most well-known speeches in American history. 

His tremendous success can be seen in the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the ratification of the 24th Amendment in the 1960s. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and donated the prize money to the civil rights movement. His life of service was cut short four years later when he was shot and killed at a motel in Memphis, Tennessee. 

Just four days after his assassination, John Conyers, a Congressman from Michigan proposed the declaration of a federal holiday in honor of King in Congress, though few Washington politicians backed this bill. Conyers was far from deterred and continued to propose his bill every year, enlisting help from the Congressional Black Caucus and famous faces like Stevie Wonder to drum up public support in American society. When countless civil rights movement veterans celebrated the 20th anniversary of the March on Washington by gathering on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Congress could no longer ignore the people’s pleas. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law and 1986 saw the very first MLK Day. Though it was a federal holiday, several states, particularly in the South, boycotted the holiday or declared state versions of the holiday that also honored Confederate general Robert E. Lee, whose birthday falls on Jan. 19th. 

On Jan. 17, 2000, 22 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was officially celebrated in every U.S. state after South Carolina became the final state to do so. Two days later, in New Britain, Connecticut, the author of this column was born. Happy birthday to my fellow January babies, and I’ll see you all next week. 

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